By Cassandra Balentine
The print industry has experienced an inkjet revolution over the past decade. As market maturity continues on the continuous-feed end of the spectrum, cutsheet solutions are also making their mark.
Nicknamed the “Zone of Disruption” by research firm InfoTrends, an opportunity currently exists in the digital equipment gap found between cutsheet toner-based solutions and continuous-feed inkjet color printers.
“Cutsheet inkjet serves a space of the market left between traditional cutsheet toner and continuous-feed inkjet equipment,” comments Michael Poulin, senior manager, production marketing, Canon Solutions America, Production Print Solutions. He explains that cutsheet toner machines max at around 200 to 250 images per minute and can become expensive at these high volumes. On the other hand, continuous feed inkjet produces high-quality output at high speeds, yet the volume needs to be high enough—about 1,000 letter images per minute or more—to justify the initial investment in the machine. “Cutsheet inkjet fills the gap left between these two technology options. It can print at higher speeds more cost effectively than cutsheet toner and is less of an investment cost than continuous-feed inkjet,” he explains.
In its 2014 Cutsheet Inkjet Color Revolution analysis, InfoTrends recommends that products found in this sweet spot help drive new applications and transform business models through process improvement and operational efficiency, just-in-time manufacturing, and the creation of unique—as opposed to mass manufactured—content. Additionally, the firm states that product offerings should not have an acquisition price of more than a million dollars and should offer “impressive” productivity levels.
In general, inkjet—both cutsheet and continuous—serve three primary applications, transactional, direct mail, and books. With proven success in these areas with continuous-feed options, cutsheet inkjet is expected to follow a similar trajectory. Commercial printers and high-end direct mailers are among the early adopters of cutsheet inkjet solutions.
Commercial printers that have acknowledged the need to find a solution to serve shorter runs, but still require the same high-quality level provided by offset printing are early adopters of cutsheet inkjet technology, according to Ed Pierce, product marketing manager, Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division. He adds that printers with online storefronts, producing frequent short-run work, and touting fast delivery times benefit from the technology.
High-volume production environments also look to the technology to run proofs and reprints. “It is a far more cost-effective solution than starting up and running a larger system for a low-volume job,” adds Jesse Heindl, marketing communication specialist, RISO, Inc.
Pierce agrees, noting that cutsheet inkjet equipment is typically designed to complement traditional offset to profitability produce short-run versions and reprints that traditional offset cannot cost-effectively produce and where quality consistency is required.
As the benefits of cutsheet inkjet are realized, print providers adopting the technology also face certain challenges, especially in the areas of substrate compatibility and print quality. Vendors strive to address these concerns as they introduce and enhance solution offerings.
“Cutsheet inkjet is an advantageous proposition to print providers who are looking to grow their business by cost effectively running monochrome and color jobs on one engine, moving monochrome applications to higher-value/higher-margin color products, and extending the cross-over point for digital print versus offset, helping more pages migrate to digital print,” says Canon’s Poulin.
He points out that substrate options are still in the early stages of development and cutsheet inkjet currently does not offer all of the media options that continuous feed inkjet or cutsheet toner have.
To address this concern, Canon Solutions America features its Media & Solutions Lab, where it currently tests and qualifies papers daily for certified use on the Océ VarioPrint i300. “We are also partnering more closely with paper vendors to help them bring to market papers developed specifically for cutsheet inkjet products. We expect to see media options for cutsheet inkjet grow as the technology captures the industry,” says Poulin.
In terms of print quality, Pierce says cutsheet inkjet solutions provide a profitable solution to taking on shorter run work while still maintaining the high quality levels that the market expects. However, he acknowledges that achieving offset quality has been a technical challenge that manufacturers are still chasing.
He says Fujifilm has achieved this level of quality with its J Press 720S, which is Fujifilm’s second generation of this press and technology. “Fujifilm is committed to the technology and industry, which is evidenced by the fact that this is the company’s second generation of the J Press and also its commitment to R&D,” says Pierce.
Scott Robertz, digital printing systems product manager, Komori, says the IS29 cutsheet inkjet platform provides the benefits of offset print quality, the ability to print off-the-shelf offset-grade media, the ability to produce six-up signatures, and the ability to handle/finish printed work immediately.
However, he points out that there is always the desire for higher throughput at lower cost. “While the Komori Impremia IS29 currently operates at a throughput rate of 300 letter impressions per minute, the press has the capability of handling sheets at many times that rate. As inkjet technology improves, the platform will be ready to handle higher throughput,” he explains.
While cutsheet inkjet solutions have been on the market for quite some time, new entries from major players—such as Canon and Xerox—shed new light on the emerging segment.
Canon Solutions America’s Océ VarioPrint i300 features a monthly duty cycle of one to ten million pages per month. The solution supports a large variety of paper sizes up to 13.9 to 19.7 inches—or B3 format. Up to eight paper trays feed a broad range of standard offset and inkjet substrates from 16 lb. bond to 110 lb. cover.
The VarioPrint i300 provides 600×600 dpi output with drop size modulation to deliver 1,200 dpi perceived image quality.
Océ VarioPrint 6000+ input and output technologies help enable a white sheet in, finishing application out workflow required to meet the demands of today’s shorter run, fast turnaround print market place. Reliable high-speed, sheet-fed inkjet production is powered by Océ iQuarius technologies, a range of innovations that allow for robust, high-quality prints on sheets of paper at high speeds.
The Fujifilm J Press 720S runs at 2,700 B2 sheets per hour. “Customers running a single shift may experience monthly volume over 300,000 sheets and the number goes up accordingly as shifts are added,” says Pierce. The J Press 720S is an actual press that incorporates high-end inkjet technology.
The maximum print width is 20.24 to 28.86 inches. The thickest stock the press is specified to run is 14 pt. Maximum print resolution is 1,200×1,200 dpi.
The J Press 720S utilizes Fujifilm Dimatix Samba inkjet printheads, incorporating Fujifilm’s VersaDrop wavelength jetting technology along with Fujifilm Vividia aqueous pigment inks.
Differentiating factors of the device include a high image quality, which is achieved through its advanced printheads and jetting technology. Pierce notes that the press provides “industry leading” color consistency and the ability to achieve approximately 80 percent of Pantone colors with a four-color process. Additionally, Fujifilm provides its cloud-based ColorPath Synch color management solution. The J Press 720S has the ability to run both coated and uncoated standard offset stocks due to the use of a rapid coagulation primer, which is applied in real time to each sheet that acts as an ink receptor. It is colorless and has no smell.
Komori offers the Komori Impremia IS29, a UV inkjet printing system that prints six-up signatures at 1,200×1,200 dpi with multi-level drop sizes on a 23×29.5-inch sheet. It prints at full speed at this resolution. The solution offers a maximum monthly duty cycle of ten million four-color letter impressions. However, Robertz points out that this is a new product being introduced to the market in beta environments, therefore there is not enough empirical data to provide an average monthly duty cycle.
The press’ maximum print width is 22.6 inches; with a maximum one-sided media thickness of 24 pt and a maximum double-sided media thickness of 18 pts.
The press uses a 1,200×1,200 dpi Konica Minolta multi-level UV inkjet system with Komori sheet-fed press paper transport and construction.
Robertz notes that the print quality of the IS29 is “visually indistinguishable” from Komori sheet-feed offset presses, and it prints on the same substrates without the need for treatment.
UV inkjet technology of the IS29 provides substrate freedom compared to aqueous inkjet. “It can print on offset-grade gloss coated, matte coated, uncoated, textured, and embossed paper and some synthetic substrates,” he offers.
Additionally, the press’ LED curing provides instant sheet drying for immediate finishing/handling. “The 23- to 29.5-inch sheet size of the IS29 is the largest of the cutsheet inkjet devices and provides commercial printers with the ability to print six-up signatures and other multi-up impositions for applications such as direct mail postcards,” says Robertz.
Konica Minolta, Inc. plans to launch its sheet-fed UV inkjet press this Spring. Developed by Konica Minolta and Komori Corporation, the KM-1 accommodates paper up to 23×29.5 inches in size and handles papers of different thicknesses from paper to packaging paper.
RISO launched its HC series of high-speed color inkjet printers in 2003, and Heindl says the company has been spurring continuous advancement in the field of cutsheet technology ever since. The RISO ComColor X1 series of full-color inkjet printers are the fourth generation of RISO’s cutsheet inkjet technology, combining outstanding print speed, high-volume capabilities, and low operating cost.
Speeds on the ComColor X1 are between nine to 150 ppm in full color, with a duty cycle of up to half a million prints. Heindl says resolution of up to 600 dpi is possible due to the company’s FORCEJET technology, which feeds the paper horizontally beneath a series of 24 inline pizeoelectric drop on demand printheads arranged in parallel. He explains that piezoelectric printheads use vibration to create ink droplets—unlike thermal printers, which heat the ink inside the print cartridge to form ink droplets. As the paper moves beneath them, the fixed printheads lay down in parallel the individual colors that make up the four-color print. An eight-step control process assures excellent results with fine tonal gradations. “This innovation of moving the paper across the printhead—not the other way around—results in a more efficient, streamlined paper path through the machine, reduces the number of rollers and moving parts—cutting down on internal wear and service calls, and makes possible the higher printing speeds found in all RISO ComColor inkjet printers,” says Heindl.
ComColor X1 cutsheet inkjet printers have a low total cost of ownership with a price point between $30,000 to $50,000. Heindl says this is about half the cost of other full-color equipment.
RISO devices are positioned as a bridging solution for those transitioning from offset to inkjet technology, or as a backup system for short runs, reprints, and jobs too small for high-end digital or offset printing systems.
At its pre-drupa event this March, Xerox introduced its first cutsheet inkjet press, the Xerox Brenva HD Production Inkjet Press. With this launch, Xerox targets the product gap between high-end toner and low-end inkjet presses with appeal to print providers in the light direct mail, transactional, and book markets. The device incorporates many of the paper-path components found in the Xerox iGen, and additional features including an inline spectrophotometer, object-oriented color management, and black-only mode for cost-effective monochrome printing.
According to the company, the Xerox Brenva HD Production Inkjet Press will be available in Europe in May 2016 and North America in September 2016. Shipments will begin in June 2016. The list price starts at $649,000.
The Next Era of Inkjet
As more pages move to digital, vendors strive to close gaps in their equipment offering with new solutions and strategic partnerships. We watch as print providers test the limits of the technology, driving new trends in the marketplace. dps
May2016, DPS Magazine